his year, I published my first book, core collection: poems about eating disorders.
This morning, my boyfriend and I woke up pleasuring each other. He’s amazing at sucking my nipples.
In this article, we’ll be discussing those two things: eating disorders and sex.
You see how this girl cherishes organization? And please say hello to “ana.”
That’s the sweet little name we anorexics give our disorder: anorexia, meet ana. Ana, anorexia.
There’s a slew of “pro-ana” websites that exist to keep her alive, offering “tips and tricks” — all of us squatting and counting and bending and breaking, ana ants marching to feed the queen. Here’s a list of tips “To Avoid Eating.” Just so you see.
New let’s center on tip #11 from that webpage — passing over the “drink as much water as you can” to simulate a bloat and “do jumping jacks whenever you can” to feign a choice.
Tip #11 reads, “Keep a note of every calorie you intake.”
On top of this tip being totally inconvenient, unrealistic, and paranoid — all qualities that people with anorexia largely tend to embody, as slight as that body can be — it also conditions us to prize quantity over quality, matter over mind. (Or mind over matter, depending on how you look at it. Gosh, eating disorders are confusing.)
Now, the question is: how does this affect the anorexic’s sex life?
lying next to me. you are
really what can it all mean,
without that eternal feel-
that may remind you that you are not going to live forever and should probably get copulating soon
“Mortal tricks” doesn’t appear in core collection, although many of the poems swallow and regurgitate whatever combination of sex and starvation I was feeling at the time. “Mortal tricks” does, however, reflect some version of the relationship that arises between bodily obsession and sexual desire in eating disorders.
And, like many people, my already-disordered eating and body image spun into an eating disorder when all other aspects of life seemed to be spinning out. (A spin-out that is all too common — every 60 seconds someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder).
“If illness was a retreat from an expansive embrace of demanding, complex, emotional aspects of life including sex, then this tail end of recovery was about letting that back in again,” writes Dr. Emily T. Troscianko.
And if we crave certain foods for metaphorical reasons as Dr. Anita Johnston proposes — like fruit when you ache for a refreshing change in your dead-end job or relationship, or chocolate when you’re itching for intimacy and pleasure — then the choice to restrict it is a metaphor, too.
And that’s at the core of it. You become an ana ant—marching, marching, marching—in an effort to tame chaos. In an effort to feed something else. That sense of control could manifest by counting everything. Monetizing, or rather, calorizing, everything. You might even become a hermit, and a miserly one at that. You’ll lose people, as they’re not worth forgoing your low calorie, high-energy expenditure streak, which you think is the only way to maintain order.
Spontaneity and serendipity? Secrets you hear other people whisper about.
And sex. You think of sex as something not of love, but for copulation or status or fitting in, or for simply pleasing the other, knowing you’ll be tending to your sore vagina for the next week and a half after a foreign object was pushed in without sufficient lubrication. Nothing to enjoy here but some sort of externalized value. A mortal trick.
You let ideas condition sensation. Your brain comes before everything. You are the ana ant and you are the ana queen, cruel and subjugated in equal turns.
Enough of ant metaphors. Let’s get to the poetry that’s already been written.
In talking about my sexual experiences both during and recovering from anorexia, we’ll use my book as the substrate. Why? Because poetry is the only real way to talk about the lived experience of an eating disorder. You’ll see why I believe this.
First, let’s organize the discussion by poem, focusing on a few in the second section of the book, which itself focuses on romance and love. They were all written at different times during the height of my eating disorder (ages 17–21), with numbers 2, 3, and 4 written at the earliest stages.
And as every discussion of eating disorders should go, there’s no need to disclose height, weight, body mass index (BMI). No. I’m done with numbers. That’s like measuring how good your sex was by dick or breast size.
Instead, let’s talk about it through the rebellious bird of all quill pen writing, the closest thing we have to true communication: poetry.
- vv (fangs; I’m hungry)
- you can’t eat desserts forever
- vacuum diet (on binge eating)
- Sex Symbols
vv (fangs; I’m hungry)
what has who, the
she limps to quip speed.
there’s no need to drink
caffeine — it just
feels good and looks right on a
continental night, and
the naïveté pounding
from your temples
you squeeze me a virgin of
they don’t have me anymore.
What could this have to do with ana? Well, it does proclaim to be hungry in the title.
And there’s coffee. Did you know that coffee can help to dampen an appetite? That’s a common trick — ingest liquids, diminish cravings (harkening back to the pro-ana tips…).
And now there’s some attraction. Oooh, someone seems naïve and innocent. So bright as to take the place of the northern lights.
Alright, someone acquiesces. Someone squeezes the person acquiescing. This person no longer has their virtues. It’s like they never had them, actually. This person is now a vv. What were their virtues? Who or what squeezed them of it? Was it an enticing piece of chocolate cake, or a person you will eat for, a person for whom you will break ana’s rituals, because they seem worth it? Will you actually eat foreign, unmeasured matter in front of someone today? This is sure to make them think you’re normal, careless, naturally skinny, and free.
I know what it means to feel raw. Like
the crunch of a fresh apple or the sizzling
of pink chicken in a pan.
Make me feel raw, like
the first moment you admired my eyelids
Here this person is. It’s kind of violent, no? Whatever the hell is happening to her. It seems she feels untouched, raw, and that whatever is touching her right now is crunching her bones. Maybe this partner is too heavy for her. Now there’s sizzling; maybe it’s too hot for her.
Is she having sex? Does it hurt?
Does she like that it hurts?
Does it have to hurt?
What is with this
Is sex for
And chicken and apples? Huh?
you can’t eat desserts forever
mmmm, honey sugar,
you with your leaping lids of
you nut case,
dressed in white chocolate
macadamia raging the brain causing
tooth pondering the preheat the
the butter the
battered drain and
My lustful lids’ rhyme.
what do they see?
heat, my sweet.
enough to singe the oneirism
of matrimonial butter-cream.
perhaps the toothpick inserts too
and the gesticulating tongues begin
to sear with
Carpe Diem fear.
this is all
let our burning cool on a rack
of steel and
that which be the shriveling salt of
all things supple
but can create some new
and call it
Is she idealizing this relationship—this person she’s been having sex with—into food items? How much has to center around food?
vacuum diet (on binge eating)
Perfect. A poem about a binge episode. About binge episodes. The poem taking the form of mouth as much as vulva, asking for too much, not knowing how to tune into sensations. Consumerism. Capitalist society. An all-or-nothing approach.
Did you know that people have historically compared sex to food and vice versa? Sure do wonder why. A trick to keep it all going?
Sex hurt when I was sick. Of course this pain has to do with a lack of bodily cushions — but it also had to do with a scarcity of the hormones that help you feel aroused. That help lubricate you. A scarcity of comfort in yourself that makes your body uncomfortable to everyone else. Maybe it hurts so much because your body is trying to tell you that you’re not compatible with reproduction.
How do you expect me to reproduce if you
I remember asking a nutritionist if it was normal. If it was normal for anorexics to have a hard time with…you know. She kind of smirked and laughed. I don’t know — have you tried lube?
But in the last few years — between ages 22 and 24, two to four years after I “recovered” — it’s like my vagina learned how to open. No lube necessary. Imagine a flower deflowering itself. Maybe this means that I need to attribute all the hot sex I’ve been having to eating disorder recovery (even though it took a few years)! Woohoo!
Apart from all the physical (and sexual) tricks I’m discovering with a better-nourished body, I’m also uncovering some spiritual ones, too. As Elisabeth Huh illuminates in her TEDTalk, to have an eating disorder is to suffer a spiritual sickness — to not be content with your spirit in itself, to always be looking for someone or something else to fill it.
In direct opposition, to have sex, to make love — that seems to require you to be secure enough of your spirit as not to hope that it gets filled by another, but rather that it transcends all those dirty little mortal tricks with another. Back to the matrices of eloquence found in Troscianko’s essay:
The question of selflessness is an interesting one here amid food and sex… the denial gives you something. Self-denial becomes the substance you’re addicted to; it gives you the high (or at least the temporary freedom from the lows) you think you need.
The selflessness involved in good sex is of quite another kind: it isn’t the sterile selflessness of asceticism, but the fluid eroticism of self not being denied, but losing its boundaries from the other — both physically (skin touching skin, body boundaries penetrated) and sensationally and emotionally (in the shared rhythms of a progression towards orgasm, in the intensity of balanced needs and their fulfillment).
So self is lost not by squashing it down out of sight (which makes it clamor all the louder) but by letting it be part of someone else for a while. It’s quite different.
Part of treating an eating disorder is allowing the world (and your body) to be more complicated, dare I say more intuitive, than you want it to be. Or so says Opal: Food+Body Wisdom, in its very first podcast. And that the job of a psychologist — be it in an office session or in the moments you act as your own — is to reframe your lived experience. This takes flexibility and experimentation, intuition — which I find in poetry.
“Some of the work that I think is really cool about eating disorders,” mentions one of Opal’s contributors, “is that you do have this specific, tangible part of a person’s life…to kind of work back from…into these larger, more abstract, more metaphorical things about their life and their psyche.”
Eating disorders offer a simple concept—the body—and all the ways you flex and experiment with it as your vehicle towards complex psychology. You further deviate into the margins of society, disembodied, weird (mental) spacing, not-finishing-sentences, not-measuring-up. And this is why poetry is the only language we have to reach the ana ants. This is why poetry is the language of queens.
Use it to find your mind. Use it for recovery.
I need to say that I’d love to continue this conversation through your comments, messages, Instagram DM, @ssimon8, the shameful plug, because I’m more accustomed to shame than not. However you choose to talk about these types of things. Ana ants or not. All welcome.